Sunday, January 30, 2011

Writing Buddies Blog Carnival: The Shredder Edition

The typical writer's cat is content to curl up for hours at his owner's side, purring subliminal messages of comfort and peace; furry, faithful balm for a weary writer's soul.

And then there's Seamus O'Leary. To Seamus, being a writer's cat is a full-on competitive contact sport. Seamus has only three legs, yet he is undeterred in his pursuit of gymnastic excellence.

This is Seamus. These are his moves.

The Lap-Sit

Easily mastered even by kittens, the Lap-Sit is the foundation on which many of the more complex maneuvers are based. This move lulls the unsuspecting writer into a false sense of trusting companionship. From here, cat can easily segue into:

The Big Sleep

Cat leans toward desk until writer's view of keyboard is obstructed. This should successfully disrupt the work of the novice writer; however, experienced writers on a roll are unlikely to notice. In this case, the move is extended until full lateral contact with keyboard is attained, thus blocking writer's access to the space bar and all mid-keyboard letters. Bonus points if cat actually falls asleep in this position.

The Wrist-Breaker

Essential components of the successful Wrist-Breaker include: 1) forepaws and chest draped over writer's forearm, such that most of the cat's weight is concentrated in the writer's wrist; 2) an irritated stare at writer every time writer uses the mouse and joggles the cat; and 3) ignoring writer's complaints that if the cat would just go loll somewhere else, he wouldn't get joggled in the first place.

Bonus points if cat baps other cat in the head. Championship status if escalation of bapping results in other cat moving to a quieter location. If writer loses concentration and/or temper sufficiently to dump cat off lap onto floor, cat loses round and must immediately begin again.

The Time-Bomb


highly advanced maneuver requires not only agility but a pronounced degree of shamelessness. As there is no way to accomplish this move without attracting the writer's notice, the goal is to astonish writer such that she is willing to see if cat is actually going to go there. Phrases such as, "What the hell do you think you're doing" and "You can't possibly think this is going to work" will assure the committed cat that he is on the track to success.

"Time-bomb" refers to the possibly explosive response of the support-cat, as well as the likely reaction of the writer if one or both cats slip and utilize claws in a desperate effort to regain balance.

Due to extreme difficulty rating, successful completion automatically confers supreme championship status.

The Wrath-Slayer

Deceptively simple, the Wrath-Slayer is an essential move in any writer-cat's repertoire. Highly recommended anytime a previous move ends in disaster (for example: coffee spilled on keyboard; bloodshed. See under The Time Bomb.) When properly executed, the Wrath-Slayer confronts writer with cat's undeniable cuteness, thus ensuring that cat will not be permanently barred from writer's presence.

The Wrath-Slayer may also be utilized after a successful maneuver; before a difficult move is attempted; or anytime cat is in need of writer's adoration as well as restful sleep.

Although the Wrath-Slayer is essentially free-form, it is critical that cat position himself such that every time his writer glances down, she sees cat's innocently adorable sleepy-face. A view of the back of cat's head, for example, is far less effective. It should go without saying that this is not the time to flaunt one's backside.

A DVD with step-by-step instructions to these and other moves, plus tips and tricks from the master himself, Seamus O'Leary, will be available for the 2011 holiday season. In the meantime, to those writers' cats weary of endless boring days full of nothing but the clack of keyboard keys, remember: her office is your arena. Go forth, and excel.

Many thanks to Melissa for putting together the Writing Buddies Blog Carnival! For peeks at other, undoubtedly nicer writing buddies, click over to Melissa's blog, Writing with Style.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Philadelphia Story

Last week I was discussing romantic comedies with a co-worker, and--as always happens when romantic comedies are being discussed--we wondered why so many of them are so terrible.

I mean, when someone sits down to write a romantic comedy, the word comedy ought to be a clue. As in actually funny, instead of one contrived gimmick after another. You know what another key word is? Romantic. Chemistry, people! That's what we're looking for, not two leads who go together like flashbulbs on a goat. **cough cough Hugh Grant Sarah Jessica Parker cough**

But when a romantic comedy is done right...ah, then what a sparkly, joyous thing it is indeed. And hardly any romantic comedy does it more right than The Philadelphia Story.

I don't remember when I first saw it. I just remember falling head over heels for it, and I've been head over heels ever since. Katharine Hepburn is glorious as Tracy Lord, strong-willed society aristocrat and ex-wife of Cary Grant's C.K. Dexter Haven, whom she divorced because of his alcoholism. Tracy is preparing to head down the aisle again, this time with George Kittredge, a self-made man and budding politician.

Enter Sidney Kidd. Kidd is the publisher of Spy magazine, a tabloid that specializes in prying into celebrities' private lives. Kidd wants the inside scoop on the society wedding of the year, and he doesn't care how low he has to stoop to get it. He concocts a plan to sneak writer Mike Connor (Jimmy Stewart) and photographer Elizabeth Imbrie (the drily hilarious Ruth Hussey) into Tracy's wedding as bogus "friends of the family." Mike doesn't want any part of it. He has no use for celebrities and even less for snobby rich folk. But his true calling--writing short stories--doesn't pay the rent, so rather than lose his job, he reluctantly goes along with Kidd's scheme.

In the hands of lesser screenwriters, this would turn into a stale sitcom of mistaken identities and breathless last-minute revelations. Instead, The Philadelphia Story is an unpredictable, riotous delight. Witty barbs fly like darts--and at times, they stab deep. The characters have lots to say about class, prejudice, passion, human frailty, and what it means to be truly loved. "The time to make up your mind about people," Tracy Lord insists, "is never."

Add to that the sizzle between Hepburn and all three of her leading men, Jimmy Stewart in a side-splitting drunk scene (he won an Oscar for this role), and Cary Grant as the discarded ex, all casual flippancy on the surface and desperate yearning underneath...oh, it doesn't get any better than this.

So if you're in the mood for a romantic comedy, but you just can't find one delicious enough to hook your finicky heart, do yourself a favor. Pop The Philadelphia Story into the DVD player. And then, when someone like me sighs and says, "Why can't they make them like they used to?" you'll sigh too, and say, "I don't know...but wouldn't it be wonderful if they did?"

Thursday, January 20, 2011


It's an odd feeling, finishing the writing of a book.

For thirteen months I was immersed in the world of my new novel. I wrote with a constant sense of urgency, even though the only deadlines I faced were my own. I was having a blast writing it, yet at the same time, I wanted it to be done and out in the world like, yesterday.

Over the past year, when people have asked, "How's the book?" or "What are you working on now?" I've mostly answered, "Fine," or given my vague two-sentence description and left it at that. I've learned the hard way that the more I talk about a novel-in-progress, the less drive I have to actually write it. It's as if I have a well of creative energy to draw on, but that well is finite; I can spend it talking, or I can spend it writing. So I played it close to the vest. Instead, I poured everything I had onto the page.

And now it's done. Thirteen months, two major drafts (plus a lightning-fast "clean-up" draft), 100,000 words. The very last thing: attaching the cover page. I never type the cover page until the manuscript is ready to go. I don't know why. But it's become a little ritual, the official symbol of completion. Then I sent the manuscript winging through email to my agent.


Since then, I've felt rudderless. The sense of urgency I've lived with for over a year is suddenly gone. With any luck, it'll be back; if the novel gets picked up by a publisher, then there will be rounds of revisions, copyedits and first-pass pages, all with deadlines I'll be scrambling to meet. But for now, it's out of my hands. I have that sort of disoriented, blinking-in-the-sunshine feeling I always get when a book is finished. Now what do I do?

The answer, of course, is "plenty." Blogging to catch up on, not to mention all the lovely social media which I've neglected for months. Cleaning up the enormous stacks of manuscript pages and books in my office. Guest blogs and interviews (more on those later!) Updates to my website. Training and playing with the new puppy. Starting the next book. Oh, and now that this novel is done...

...I finally get to tell you what it's about.

While on an education abroad trip in Italy, 17-year-old Dessa discovers that the world is about to be destroyed. Infinitely worse, the only person capable of saving it is her ex-best friend, Skylar. Skylar is careless, selfish, and unless saving all humankind comes with its own reality show, she has zero interest in being its chosen heroine. Somebody has to make sure some actual world-saving gets done, so—aided by a rugby player from New Zealand with a bum knee, a 13-year-old with a talent for sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong, and a quest guide who may or may not be a raving lunatic—Dessa reluctantly becomes the sidekick to a girl she’s barely spoken to since they were seven years old.

But her problems are just beginning. How does a motley group of teens with an uncooperative heroine convince a parallel Earth that its discovery of limitless energy—which is about to turn that world into a paradise—is responsible for their own world’s destruction? As if that little issue isn't stressful enough, Dessa also has to figure out how to deal with a rogue pug, an annoying yet completely irresistible ex-boyfriend, and revelations about her childhood that threaten to upend everything she thought she knew about Skylar, their shared past…and Dessa herself.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Is It 2011 Yet?

The title of this post pretty much sums up my current mental state. Where have I been, you ask? Under a rock?

If "rock" means "finish-novel-celebrate-holidays-get-a-new-puppy," then yes. That's exactly where I've been.

I'll tell you about the novel later. For now, let's talk about the puppy. I mean, a brand-new finished novel is pretty damn exciting. But let's face it: cute as a manuscript might be, you can't teach it to sit. Or kiss its warm fuzzy head. (Then again, a novel doesn't keep you up all night barking, either. Hmm.)

As you may remember, our sweet Ginny dog passed away last year. For the first time in our almost-22 years together, my sweetie and I decided to try being a one-dog family. The house became quiet. Sedate, even. Ginny was always the flamboyant one; Inja, in contrast, is low-key. Very low-key. As in, this was her daily routine from 8 AM (just after breakfast) to 6 PM (just before dinner):

Highlights of her days included lying in front of the heater vent in the kitchen when the heater kicked on, and getting her head washed by the cat. Oh, and walks. After all, a nice long walk is the perfect excuse to jump back on the chair for a little rest and recovery.

Enter Roxie. Roxie is a 9-month-old German Shepherd. Now, I realize she seems pretty calm in this photo. That's because this is her second day in our house, and we discovered that she had never in her short life seen 1) stairs, 2) cats, or 3) bare floors. She kept staring at us as if to ask, "WHY? WHY DO YOU PEOPLE LIVE ON ICE? DON'T YOU REALIZE THERE'S A BETTER WAY AND IT IS CALLED CARPET?!"

Just look at the worry on her poor face. "I HAVE BEEN KIDNAPPED BY THE ICE PEOPLE," that look says. "NEXT I SHALL CERTAINLY BE EATEN BY ICE TROLLS."

The day after this, though, she decided that the floors maybe were not actually entirely lethal, and she began gingerly walking on them. Stairs were a different story. She clearly regarded stairs as devices of Satan. We live in an old Portland house, which means: Stairs in. Stairs out. Stairs everywhere. For the first two weeks, letting Roxie out meant leashing her up and walking her out the front and around the side yard to the back gate. In thirty-five degree rain.

The stair boycott also meant Roxie had to sleep alone downstairs. Once she decided we were not in fact dog-eating ice trolls, but actually sort of fun to be around, this became unacceptable to her. Unfortunately, it wasn't unacceptable enough to give stair-climbing a whirl. No, her solution was to bark. All. Night. Long. In case you didn't know, German Shepherds can bark really, really LOUDLY. At one point, a dog-eating ice troll started to sound like a pretty good idea.

Fortunately for all of us, she had a sudden stair breakthrough. Maybe she realized that if she climbed the stairs, she could go in search of the cats. Whatever the reason, now stairs are her friends.

And so is Inja.

Yep--Inja's up out of the chair, for a few hours of the day, at least. The house isn't quiet anymore, or sedate. But now that Roxie has decided that stairs are not Treacheries of Doom, at least we're all getting a full night's sleep again.

And the novel? It winged its way to my agent a couple of days ago. More on that later. Now it's time to go play with the dogs.

New novel, new puppy. And a very Happy New Year to you all!